Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters

Readers of my previous comment on Tariq Ramadan will no doubt have come away with the impression that I don’t much like Daniel Pipes. This is not an entirely accurate assessment of my opinon of him. I think Pipes is an unreconstructed bigot and xenophobic fanatic whose academic work fails to meet even the lowest standards of scholarship, whose career has been built on politically driven attacks, and who has set up with his “Campus Watch” as a terrorist front designed to intimidate academics and ensure that there is as little debate, discussion or rational thought on Israel, US foreign policy or Islam as possible. His reseach and scholarship are not intended to better inform action but to support specific agendas, usually revolving around hating some foreign force or people. Instead of fostering debate, his work is intended to intimidate. Pipes advocates religiously targetted surveillance, he supports making federal university funding conditional on ideology, and he has helped to terrorise professors who are named on his website. In short, I think Pipes is swine.

He is a second generation right-wing tool, the son of one of the men most responsible for America’s “Team B”, which grossly overblew the Soviet menace in the 70s and 80s – causing massive US defense spending and resulting deficits – and complained that anyone with a better sense of reality was soft on communism. Normally, Pipes’ parentage would constitute poor grounds for condeming him as having a pathological relationship to facts. But keep this in mind, since it constitutes one of his arguments against Ramadan.

All you need is Google to find out why I think these things about Daniel Pipes. It’s not a lot of work. His own website provides ample examples.

But, today, I will be targeting something a little more specific. Pipes has put up on his website his comment on Tariq Ramadan’s visa denial, originally published in the New York Post on Friday. In it, he makes specific points against Tariq Ramadan, linking, in some cases, to articles on the web in support. These articles are primarily in French. As a service to our non-francophone readers, we will be translating the relevant sections, since they lead one to the conclusion that Pipes assumes his readers will just take his word on their contents.

We report, you decide.

First, Pipes’ claims:

Of course, Mr. Ramadan dismisses the revocation as “unjustified” and due to “political pressure.” He even blames me for the DHS decision.

What’s up? The DHS knows much more than I do, but it is not talking. A review of the press, however, gives an idea of what the problem is. Here are some reasons why Mr. Ramadan might have been kept out:

  • He has praised the brutal Islamist policies of the Sudanese politician Hassan Al-Turabi. Mr. Turabi in turn called Mr. Ramadan the “future of Islam.”
  • Mr. Ramadan was banned from entering France in 1996 on suspicion of having links with an Algerian Islamist who had recently initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris.
  • Ahmed Brahim, an Algerian indicted for Al-Qaeda activities, had “routine contacts” with Mr. Ramadan, according to a Spanish judge (Baltasar Garz?n) in 1999.
  • Djamel Beghal, leader of a group accused of planning to attack the American embassy in Paris, stated in his 2001 trial that he had studied with Mr. Ramadan.
  • Along with nearly all Islamists, Mr. Ramadan has denied that there is “any certain proof” that Bin Laden was behind 9/11.
  • He publicly refers to the Islamist atrocities of 9/11, Bali, and Madrid as “interventions,” minimizing them to the point of near-endorsement.

And here are other reasons, dug up by Jean-Charles Brisard, a former French intelligence officer doing work for some of the 9/11 families, as reported in Le Parisien:

  • Intelligence agencies suspect that Mr. Ramadan (along with his brother Hani) coordinated a meeting at the H?tel Penta in Geneva for Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy head of Al-Qaeda, and Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh, now in a Minnesota prison.
  • Mr. Ramadan’s address appears in a register of Al Taqwa Bank, an organization the State Department accuses of supporting Islamist terrorism.

Then there is the intriguing possibility, reported by Olivier Guitta, that Osama bin Laden studied with Tariq’s father in Geneva, suggesting that the future terrorist and the future scholar might have known each other.

Ramadan denies all ties to terrorism, but the pattern is clear. As Lee Smith writes in The American Prospect, he is a cold-blooded Islamist whose “cry of death to the West is a quieter and gentler jihad, but it’s still jihad.”

These reasons explain why Americans should thank DHS for keeping Tariq Ramadan out of America.

Let us start with his claim that Ramadan “blames [Pipes] for the DHS decision.” Following Pipes’ link:

Tariq Ramadan, persona non grata aux Etats-Unis

[…] Comme la presse am?ricaine, l’intellectuel musulman genevois pense que des pressions sont ? l’origine de cette d?cision politique.

Et de mentionner Le Chicago Tribune qui cite Daniel Pipes, responsable de Campus watch, un site qui surveille les universit?s am?ricaines sur ce qui est dit ? propos du conflit isra?lo-palestinien.

?Daniel Pipes, rappelle Tariq Ramadan, a d’ailleurs d?clar? qu’il voulait s’opposer ? ma venue aux Etats-unis.? […]

Like the American press, the native Genevan Muslim intellectual thinks that there is [political] pressure behind this political decision.

Not to mention the Chicago Tribune which quotes Daniel Pipes, operator of Campus Watch, a website that monitors American universities for what gets said there about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Daniel Pipes,” Ramadan notes, “did declare that he opposed me coming to the US.” […]

Now, reading this, one gets the additional claim that Daniel Pipes name came up first in the Chicago Trib, and that the reporter for Swissinfo probably asked him specifically about Pipes. Ramadan did not blame Pipes, he merely points out that Pipes was opposed to letting him into the US to teach. This is not something Pipes is exactly going out of his way to deny.

Perhaps Pipes is just applying selective reading on this one, seeing claims that aren’t there. Perhaps his French isn’t really so good as to catch such subtleties. If it happened only once, we might let it slide. But this careful misreading of the French language press is hardly isolated.

Moving on: [Ramadan] has praised the brutal Islamist policies of the Sudanese politician Hassan Al-Turabi. Mr. Turabi in turn called Mr. Ramadan the “future of Islam.”

I have not been able to find out what Ramadan actually said about al-Turabi. I have found a reference to him quoting something Turabi once said in a positive light. Nor have I found where Turabi said such nice things about Ramadan, although it is in line with what I have read of him. I’ll bet that Pipes does not know what Ramadan said either. He almost certainly got the claim from Olivier Cl?ment, a French theologian who doesn’t much like Ramadan’s growing popularity.

In light of the current debate over Sudan, this area is worth exploring in some depth.

Hassan al-Turabi is one of the intellectual figures behind the transformation of Sudan in the 1980’s from a dysfunctional military state to a somewhat less dysfunctional but far from great Islamist one, although it is not clear how much of a role he had. He has a French law degree and is explicitly devoted to the project of developping workable Islamic legal codes. He ran the NIF, which was the third largest party in Sudan’s 1986 elections. Human Rights Watch blames him for creating a police state in Sudan in the aftermath of the 1989 military coup and for opening the doors to Osama bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal.

But, there are some missing elements in this account. Al-Turabi was tossed in prison in 1989 by the author of the coup. He was released several years later when he agreed to cooperate with the military government. He was made speaker of the parliament in Sudan in 1996. Around this time, the Sudanese government turned Carlos the Jackal over to France, and claims that it offered to turn bin Laden over to the US. Bin Laden was kicked out of Sudan in ’96. Later, the US bombed an asprin factory in Khartoum.

Al-Turabi then got tossed back into prison for opposition to the government. He is still in prison. He is closely linked to some of the rebels in Darfur – you know, the ones that the government-backed militia is trying to wipe out. If the developed world intervenes in Sudan, Turabi is going to be our ally, and he is the guy most likely to profit from it.

In his writings, al-Turabi is committed to Islamic law, but only in those parts of Sudan with Islamic majorities, and only to a limited degree. He favours the Islamisation of banking. He favours good relations with Christian institutions. He favours good relations within the Islamic community. He favours communitarian private law, e.g. letting non-Muslims have non-Islamic family courts. He does not believe in banning alcohol in the non-Muslim south. He does not like the US much, but I have not found anything he’s actually written where he talks about an anti-US jihad.

These are not all positions that are compatible with the western conception of religion and the state. They are certainly not my positions. But, they are hardly radical “Death to the West” Islamicism. Al-Turabi is a politician. Perhaps he says other things at different times. I am not trying to defend him as a saint. Still, this leads me to suspect that he is not quite so one-sided a figure. This 1994 interview.in particular paints a much more nuanced picture of al-Turabi. Although I do not agree with much of its content, and I suspect that the glowing picture it paints of Sudan is perhaps coloured by al-Turabi’s own relationship with the state at the time, it does not sound especially extremist to me. Certainly, I would have to ask whether an endorsement of some element of al-Turabi’s thought really constitutes grounds for condemnation.

Next: Mr. Ramadan was banned from entering France in 1996 on suspicion of having links with an Algerian Islamist who had recently initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris.

Pipes has the year wrong. It was 1995. I was in France on business at the time. The Algerian FIS was leaving bombs on French railway tracks, and Charles Pasqua, the interior minister, closed the borders and set up inspections and paperwork checks at all entry points to France. This is allowed by EU law in cases of national emergency. Pasqua forbade a great many people from entering France at the time. All manner of Muslims – almost anyone with a connection to terrorism, no matter how faint – was forbidden from entering the country. Pasqua’s emergency powers enabled him to do so without having to show any evidence or cause.

Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna. That is a connection to terrorism, enough to put him on a hastily constructed, evidence-free list of people temporarily blocked from entering France. It is not, however, a sign of culpability or risk. That is the nature of emergency power, under French law and generally elsewhere: It is arbitrary, but temporary. When the emergency had passed, no evidence to pursue Ramadan or continue to prevent him from entering was put forward. Pasqua’s measure was paranoid, just as US border policy after 9/11 was paranoid. Would you like to be judged based on whether or not you were subject to extra inspections at the airport in September of 2001?

Pasqua is not really beloved in France. He is remembered for very xenophobic immigration policies. That is one of the reasons this claim against Ramadan is so rarely repeated in the French press.


Ahmed Brahim, an Algerian indicted for Al-Qaeda activities, had “routine contacts” with Mr. Ramadan, according to a Spanish judge (Baltasar Garz?n) in 1999.

Djamel Beghal, leader of a group accused of planning to attack the American embassy in Paris, stated in his 2001 trial that he had studied with Mr. Ramadan.


And here are other reasons, dug up by Jean-Charles Brisard, a former French intelligence officer doing work for some of the 9/11 families, as reported in Le Parisien:

  • Intelligence agencies suspect that Mr. Ramadan (along with his brother Hani) coordinated a meeting at the H?tel Penta in Geneva for Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy head of Al-Qaeda, and Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh, now in a Minnesota prison.
  • Mr. Ramadan’s address appears in a register of Al Taqwa Bank, an organization the State Department accuses of supporting Islamist terrorism.

I’ve grouped these together because they are all covered in the same Le Parisien article.

Jean-Charles Brisard is a former French intelligence officer and the author of Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy, Saudi Arabia and the Failed Search for bin Laden, (Bin Laden, la verité interdite) in which he blames the Bushes for failing to pursue Al Qaeda and bin Laden because it interfered with oil interests. As much as I would like to credit that thesis, I can not do so without serious reservations. I do have to wonder, however, what Bush appointee Daniel Pipes thinks of Brisard’s other work.

The main claim against Brisard’s book is that his sources are somewhat mysterious and confirmation of his key claims- particularly about the Bush administration actively suppressing investigations into Al Qaeda – has not been forthcoming. If we take Brisard at his word, we must conclude that Daniel Pipes himself works for Al Qaeda’s supporters in the Bush administration, making him a terrorist by his own standard.

Brisard is the only source of the claim that intelligence services were looking into Ramadan, a claim which, even if true, would hardly be damning. Paranoia abounded after 9/11, even in Europe, and Ramadan is a public Islamic intellectual. However, given the lack of public charges or confirmation even of the claim that people were looking into Ramadan, it reaches the point where one suspects that this is a conviction on fourth-hand hearsay. Brisard is also the sole source of the claim that Ramadan met with al-Zawahiri – bin Laden’s right hand man – in 1991. Ramadan denies ever meeting al-Zawahiri, and no corroboration has turned up.

However, in the name of honest reporting, let me translate the relevant section of the Le Parisein article:

Two insignificant conversations

Furthermore, the Muslim intellectual’s [Ramadan’s] name has been cited in several terrorist trials. As part of a Spanish investigation into an Al-Qaeda cell, he was designated as one of the “habitual contacts” of Ahmed Brahim, a man believed to be one of Al-Qaeda’s treasurers who was found guilty by Judge Garzon. His name appeared during a telephone conversation on 22 April 199, of which we have a copy, between Ahmed Brahim and a manager at the Tawhid bookstore in Lyon, which publishes Tariq Ramadan’s books. The conversation concerns the acquisition of blank audio cassettes and the invitation of young Frenchmen to Majorca to “work in the path of Allah.” The Swiss intellectual was also cited in the French trial of a group suspected of planning an attack on the US embassy. Djamel Beghal, believed to be the head of the network, claimed on 1 October 2001 before Judge Jean-Louis Brugui?re that: “In 1994, I took some courses taught by Tarek Ramadan [sic]” Ramadan’s response: “I don’t know Ahmed Brahim. My name came up as a digression in two insignificant conversations… Furthermore, I didn’t start giving courses in Paris until 1997.” Another element to consider: According to research by the lawyers of World Trade Center victims, the address of the Ramadan family appears in the files of the Al-Taqwa bank, which is on a list of organisations accused by the US State Department of supporting Islamist terrorism. And, a new denial by Tariq Ramadan: “We have never had any relationship with that bank.”

A number of indicators

One last item from intelligence services: Tariq Ramadan and his brother arranged a meeting in 1991 in a Geneva hotel attended by Ayman al-Zawahiri, currently no. 2 man in Al-Qaeda, and Omar Abdel Rahman. What has Ramadan to say about these “dangerous” connections. “I have never met those people.” The many denials leave Jean-Charles Brisard cold. “There are today a number of indicators to suspect that Tariq Ramadan has been connected to several terrorists”, he concludes. “He has separated himself from the Muslim Brotherhood, but he shares their heritage. Under the cover of moderate statements, he exudes a radical discourse that may encourage jihad.”

I hope that by now you are saying to yourself, “What the hell is this!? This is all that Pipes has?!? He links to this article in support of his very serious charges? Two terrorists drop Ramadan’s name in unrelated phone calls? One claims to have taken one of Ramadan’s classes once, but gives a year when he couldn’t possibly have done so? Ramadan may have been investigated by French intelligence at one time? The name and address of a promenent Geneva Muslim appears in the files – probably just the mailing list – of a Geneva based Islamic bank? Hearsay from the guy who has been passing around radical conspiracy theories about how Bush is responsible for 9/11?!? Does Pipes think we’re that stupid?”

No, probably not. But he probably does think that his Anglophone audience mostly can’t read French and won’t check up by following the links. His remaining two points – the ones with links – certainly lead me to think so:

Along with nearly all Islamists, Mr. Ramadan has denied that there is “any certain proof” that Bin Laden was behind 9/11.

Let’s follow the link. It goes to an interview for La Gruy?re, a local newspaper in Fribourg, Switzerland. And indeed, the very first question is about whether or not Ramadan think bin Laden is responsible for 9/11:

Q: Is bin Laden really the person most responsible for the recent attacks on New York?

A: So far, investigators have not put forward any clear or definitive proof of his guilt. The likelihood is very great, but some questions remain unanswered: the difference between the extreme sophistication in the build-up to the attack and the accumulation of mistakes afterwards is impressive. Why leave so many tracks and never claim responsibility for the attacks? There are still too many incoherent things about it to be able to definitively designate who is responsible. But whoever it is, bin Laden or someone else, we need to find them and prosecute them.

Now, Ramadan is saying that it seems most likely that bin Laden is responsible for 9/11. However, his hesitation to blame bin Laden might, after all this time, well be considered an indication of an unwillingness to face reality. But, before jumping to that conclusion, scroll down to the very end of the webpage with the interview. You will see, on the last line of the page, the following words:

Propos recueillis par Nicolas Geinoz / 22 septembre 2001

Interview by Nicolas Geinoz / 22 September 2001

That’s right, Pipes is citing, to support his claim that Ramadan is a wacky Al-Qaeda denier, an interview that took place all of eleven days after the attacks! I was busy that week looking for an appartment in Belgium, but if I recall correctly, even the US government wasn’t casting blame beyond a shadow of a doubt at that early date, and certainly wasn’t showing any evidence to the public. Despite Ramadan’s hesitation to fix blame so very early on when he only knew what everyone knew from the TV coverage, he nonetheless says that bin Laden is probably responsable.

Pipes is really reaching. I can only imagine that either he never read the interview to the end himself – and never checked either at the bottom or in the URL itself when he typed it in – or he simply thinks you are too stupid too look for the date of the interview.

Lastly: [Ramadan] publicly refers to the Islamist atrocities of 9/11, Bali, and Madrid as “interventions,” minimizing them to the point of near-endorsement.

Again, the actual context suggests that Mr Pipes assumes no one who reads him knows French. The webpage is, again, an interview in French conducted by the French newsmagazine Le Point, a mainstream, largely centrist journal. It was published on 22 April 2004, so unlike the previous interview, one can assume it more closely represents Ramadan’s current thinking. The question asked only makes sense in light of the rest of the interview, so I’ve had to change it somewhat to include as much of the context as possible. I assure you that it is reasonably faithful to the original intent, even if it is not the original words exactly. Ramadan’s response, however, is my best effort at an accurate translation:

Q: [Is the sort of paternalism the Islamic world widely feels coming from the West serious enough to] justify terrorism?

A: From the suburbs of France to Muslim society, you will find no support, except for some miniscule amount, for the actions in New York, Bali or Madrid. We must not confuse the Iraqi and Palestinan resistance movements with pro-bin Laden acts.

Now, the underlined word is interventions in the original French. This is a relatively neutral word, as Pipes claims, but no more so than actions. This seems like a stylistically appropriate word choice to me. We would hardly take to task an American commentor for refering to the events of 9/11 as “Al-Qaeda’s actions in New York.”

But Pipes goes one step further – probably sensing that he has nothing but weak bullshit here – and says that Ramadan is “minimizing [those terrorist attacks] to the point of near-endorsement.” I am hard-pressed to see the “near-endorsement” here. Now that you have a translation in front of you, I leave it to you to try to discern one. I see no interpretation of the original French which supports Pipes. I have to imagine that he thinks he can wow his audience by leading them to think he has more insight into the nuances of French than they do.

Next point: Pipes considers the possibilty that Osama bin Laden studied in Geneva with Ramadan’s father. Note that this claim is much more hedged. Perhaps it is because the article he links to is in English?

The article, appearing in The American Thinker (hint: It’s own About page says that it’s about a country, but that country is not America), contains several claims about Ramadan that Pipes knows full well are false, and doesn’t repeat them. Like the claim that Ramadan says that the Jews control the media. It also exaggerates several of Pipes’ claims so far beyond recognition that you want to ask for a footnote. Nothing is referenced, of course.

But this is about Pipes. Nowhere in the article does it actually suggest that Osama bin Laden studied in Geneva with anyone. All it says is the following:

Going to Saudi Arabia first, Said Ramadan [Tariq Ramadan’s father] was one of the founders of the World Islamic League, a Saudi charity organization, whose goal is to spread worldwide the Islamic faith. He then decided to move to Geneva, Switzerland in 1961, where he created the Islamic Center of Geneva. His philosophy helped build the minds of a lot of rich Muslim kids; one of them happened to be Osama Bin Laden.

No footnote, no further indication, nothing. Even in a journal with the standards of the National Enquirer, Pipes still has to make stuff up about what the articles he links to say.

But even still, just as it would be unfair to hold Pipes’ father’s politically motivated bad scholarship against him, how fair is it to blame Ramadan for his father and his brother? How fair is it to ask him to condemn his own family? Should I make Daniel Pipes say that his father’s assessment of the Soviet economy was a crock of shit?


Ramadan denies all ties to terrorism, but the pattern is clear. As Lee Smith writes in The American Prospect, he is a cold-blooded Islamist whose “cry of death to the West is a quieter and gentler jihad, but it’s still jihad.”

Yes, the pattern is clear. Regardless of what Ramadan thinks, he’s the subject of a snow job by Pipes. But, the American Prospect doesn’t decend quite to the level of the American Thinker. So let’s take a look at the article:

That Ramadan believes Islam will replace Judaism and Christianity may come as a surprise to those who thought he was just saying Islam is compatible with liberal values (it will certainly surprise the fathers at Notre Dame). Rather, Ramadan is a cold-blooded Islamist who believes that Islam is the cure for the malaise wrought by liberal values. His revision of the jihadist paradigm — peaceful but total — is brilliant in its way, and he may well turn out to be a major Islamist intellectual, far surpassing even his grandfather’s influence. His cry of death to the West is a quieter and gentler jihad, but it’s still jihad. There’s no reason for Western liberals to try to understand that point of view.

Lee Smith really isn’t impressing me here. The whole article is pretty doubtful. Unsourced, unfootnoted, poorly argued – it sounds a lot like its taken from tertiary sources. And, this paragraph is no exception. However, since Ramadan believes in Islam, it can hardly come as a grand surprise when he thinks Islam is better than other religions, or that a Westernised Islam might gain a lot of converts in the West. This is not different from the missionary beliefs of very mainstream Christians and is positively mild compared to the apocalyptic beliefs of the “Christian Zionists.” Ramadan is proposing a European Islam. I really cannot see how he can so clearly support such a thing, and at the same time put forward a “cry of Death to the West.”

Tariq Ramadan is a Muslim. He is a religious thinker. He believes that there is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet. He does not believe in putting unbelievers to the sword. He doesn’t advocate killing Jews. He condemns terrorists. But, he is a Muslim. It seems very strange to condemn him for being at the same time a European Muslim, a moderate Muslim and still actually being a Muslim.

I am not a Muslim. I’m mostly indifferent to Mohammed. I figure God can take care of herself and has no need for me to be going around telling people what she thinks. But, I have to live on the same planet as a billion Muslims and somewhere between three and four billion monotheists. If we are incapable of listening to people who believe differently, and believe that they are right and we are wrong, there is little hope for any of us. Pulling this kind of mendacious crap on people for no better reason than that they think they are right advances no desireable cause.

Daniel Pipes thinks we’re all either to stupid or too scared to actually question the nonsense he passes off as scholarship. He relies on an American audience that is unable to check his sources, because when they do, they find out that Daniel Pipes is an empty suit.

This isn’t just about whether or not Tariq Ramadan is okay. It is about Daniel Pipes and his allies and how, should someone arise who might actually express themself in English and offer a counternarrative to their blantant hate speech, they feel compelled to slander them.

Pipes doesn’t just dislike Islam. He doesn’t just think that he is right and Muslims are wrong. There is a prospect for reconciliation when both sides merely think they are right. Pipes doesn’t like Muslims. He is a bigot. And for my American readers, don’t forget, this man has been appointed by your government to a public office.

Monolingualism has costs. Eugene Volokh, for example, has posted a link to Pipes’ piece but says that he does not know the facts of the case well enough to judge. Ted over at Crooked Timber makes the same claim to uncertainty. But, a cursory look at the French articles cited makes Pipes’ case worse than contestable – it’s embarrassing. There is no need to actually investigate Ramadan to know that Pipes cannot be trusted here. And remember, Pipes is George Bush’s man on Middle Eastern policy.

Never underestimate the value of knowing a foreign language. It might be the only way to know you’re being sold a bill of goods, or that a so-called scholar is a complete fraud.

70 thoughts on “Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters

  1. “The discussion, DoDo, is about accuracy and accountability.”

    The discussion, Rupert, is about Mr. Ramadan, and the validity of an attack on him. I ask for a second time: do you have any input to challenge Mr. Martens’s points against Mr. Pipes’s?

  2. ?Good question and the answer is: Yes, I do not think I am good and the rest evil?.
    Your own question that made me raise another question was slightly different. You wrote ?Don?t you just love being on the good side rather than with those evil ones? ?
    Maybe I am the only one seeing it this way but my problem with ?being on the good side? is not that it should be arrogant or backwarded but that it is too passive. When you (in the sense of someone) have decided or better still proven that you are on the right side it?s over. To me that should be just a start.

    ?If I understand you correctly, you are saying that Ramadan is political islamist and OBL is political islamist therefore both are the same ?political family?. Why do you call this a problem? For our own wellbeing, terrorism is something to be stamped on; but, I see no problem with trying to stifle terrorist recruitment by engaging disenfranchised young muslims in democratic dialogue at the same time.

    That was not what I was trying to say (and I certainly don’t blame you for getting me wrong here). My problem is that at one side we have these dictators in the Middle East who don?t oppose the efforts of the hate-mongers succesfully suggesting that 9-11 was organized by the Jews. In Saudi Arabia it seems that the majority of the people has that idea. Talk about dishonesty… This comes in handy because they need (and succesfully use) Israel as the external enemy to divert the attention from their abuse of power, prevent any opposition. The utter disdain for human rights. The murdering of people because they are from another country: the poor Nepalese workers. We have the number of madrassas strongly risen. Have you ever let the images of young boys learning khuran texts by rote, rythmically moving the upper part of their bodies, sink into your mind? Compared with these practices the hitlerjugend was a group of intellectuals. We have the oppression of independent Muslim thinkers. We have succesful attempts to organize a catholic-like hierarchy into the muslim world.

    On the other side we have the frightened Americans (and Europeans, but they are less frightened in my eyes; perhaps because ?we? faced so much more war on this side of the pond). Their fear deliberately pumped up by the media and the neocons. A lot of Americans still think Saddam had WMD ready to use and a considerable part think he actually used them against the coalition forces. Demagogues can and do exploit the fear by suggesting that no Muslim is very far from terrorism. In itself this is a selffulfilling prophecy already, but things get even more difficult when people like Ramadan claim any kinship with the terrorists.

    But only now that I am writing these sentences I see what is the main cause of my incomprehensibility. One of my strongest convictions is that demagoguery and populism is the biggest problem society faces. All of what I write and think politically is soaked with that conviction. The great majority of the people everywhere is ill-informed and a number of politicians take advantage of this while another part of them is forced to populism by the canonization of direct elections combined with the devastating effect of television on the level of the political debate. I was absolutely delighted to read ?The future of freedom? by Fareed Zakaria.
    These ideas have become so obvious to me that I sometimes forget that not everybody discussing on forums like aFoe shares it.

    I am pleased to see that you started to take up Dean?s challenge (maybe a good subject for a post on its own; somebody?) but not very pleased the way you do that. I admit that some of Dean?s sentences have a populist tendency but he is daring Europeans.
    When you contend that Dean with his line ?Europeans cannot criticize the United States for waging war in Iraq if they are unwilling to exhibit the moral fiber to stop genocide by acting collectively and with decisiveness.? is suggesting that the US went to war to stop genocide, I think you misinterprete him or worse: avoid answering the question behind it.
    Dean referred to the failure of Europe as well as the USA as well as the UN towards Ruanda.
    If we (people in all democratic and freedomloving nations) consider the possibilities to interfere in situations like in Ruanda we are obliged to consider all options. As long as the military strength of Europe is ridiculous compared with the US strength, military operations will always be a US affair. That is a very unhealthy situation.
    There is a tendency in Europe to somehow hide behind the UN but the UN itself has no point of view. The members have to make up their minds on their own.

  3. Frans, while I happen to agree with you that Ruanda was a failure of Europe as well as the USA as well as the UN (and the same for the falling apart of Yugoslavia), I still think Dean is improperly mixing up Iraq and lack of interventions against genocide.

    For the cause of Europeans in the Iraq situation was NOT doing nothing vs. the American war option, but doing inspections vs. the American war option. An option counterarguments to which were fishy, but I won’t detail them here. Dean, who is not really anti-establishment or all too leftists as portrayed (he only listened to his voters for a change), too fell in the trap of assuming (like even the foreign policy establishment of his party) that military intervention is the only effective means. (Not to mention that recent events prove the military as it is set up now is often not an effective, rather a counter-productive means that just replaces one set of inhumanities with another, see Kosovo.)

    I also disagree that Europe needs to match the US’s military strength, and that this is what would be necessary for successful humanitarian military interventions by Europe.

    It is no accident the first argument most often comes from American officials, who at the time are all upset about the European fast reaction force: their true aim is to maintain Europe in a (mostly imagined) security dependence, but get them to buy more arms from guess who. But it is a fact that most of the money spent and the troops deployed by the US military is against strategic threats (or rather, to pose a strategic threat), the budget of more or less humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping missions is dwarfed by that. I don’t think we should replicate that; it only brings us the same budgetary, social and political-culture drawbacks, while improved security is an illusion.

    What is needed for successful humanitarian missions is not quantity, but quality: an army trained to deal with civilians, willing to learn languages, primed against falling for generalisations when facing hostile reaction, and with a leadership and administration up to the complex job of creating working institutions. And above all: consequent and thoughtful political leaders who would authorise what is necessary rather than ruining it all following daily politics, ideology, greed, or plain stupidity.

    While an army as described above doesn’t yet exist anywhere, but may evolve out of Euroforce, and even some units of the US military, I grew increasingly sceptical about the latter, that there exist politicians today responsible enough for the job.

  4. Fran, you write demagogues are the biggest problem in our society, but then repeatedly fall for one demagoguery, that “people like Ramadan claim any kinship with the terrorists”. What kinship do you talk about? The kinship between Ramadan and Bin Laden is similar to the kinship between Central American Catholic priests and nuns on one hand and US or US-converted local Protestant fanatics who murdered catholic priests and nuns there in the eighties: Islamist/Islamist, Christian/Christian. (And you don’t have to be one of them to see this. I am an atheist who would gladly see all theism gone.)

  5. A final argument with Fran:

    “This comes in handy because they need (and succesfully use) Israel as the external enemy to divert the attention from their abuse of power, prevent any opposition.”

    I think the above is another demagoguery you have bought into. (And Fareed Zakaria, whom you hold in high regard, carries great part of the guilt for spreading it.) There are hardly Muslim regimes today beyond Syria and Iran and possibly parts of the disintegrating Pakistani state that exploit hate for_ and paranoia about the Israelis propagandiscally. The standard behavior is actually to suppress overt anti-Israel sentiments, in press and public display, to the extent they dare for fear of revolution: for most Arabs and Muslims think their regimes inactive and traitorous regarding the Palestinian cause, while the anti-Israel paranoid propaganda permeates from the Islamic radicals who also threaten the existence of these regimes.

    It is funny your examples are case in point. The basic myth behind the myth that Jews are responsible for 9/11, the story of 4000 Jews not showing up for work, originated on a propaganda TV run by Hezbollah. The Nepalese workers were murdered by Sunni guerillas in Iraq, possibly those led by a non-Iraqi (Zarqawi), while not only Sadr but even Lebanese Hizbollah denounced hostage-taking. Madrassas indeed remind me of Hitlerjugend (as do most religious schools for children, including those run by orthodox Jewish settlers or Catholic internates), but they are mostly privately funded in failed (Afghanistan) or failing (Pakistan) states.

    If you look beyond the hypocritical maze spread by Fareed Zakaria and others, you’ll see that the corrupt regimes and the Islamic radicals are in most instances opposing but equally bad forces; and that the West has assisted in the creation, strenghtening and maintenance of both.

  6. There is a quick and reliable test distinguish between an Islamist fanatic and a moderate Muslim: ask him “Do you basically admit that Israel has right to exist?”

    If he or she answers no or “yes, but…” then no, he/she is not a moderate, sorry.

    Would Tariq Ramadan pass this test?

  7. Frans: ?being on the good side?

    (Apologies. On the original quote, I broke the first rule of posting in an international community: don’t use sarcasm.) Many of the early quotes in this thread had strong undercurrents of “we are good and they are evil, therefore…” To me, this is naive, dangerous and exactly the same type of thinking held by the terrorists – the ones those same posters are raling against. Here are some examples:
    never give support to *any* Islamists, since Islamists seek to subvert the societies they live in
    The same is true of extremist christians, jews, hindus and radicals of any other religion that believe they are the good guys.
    But Jews do not have a conversion religion and never expected to become the dominant religious strain in Europe, while Muslims do
    Really? I have known and worked closely with many, many muslims and jews and none have ever tried to convert me or attempted to dominate me in any way. Unlike some christians, I might add.
    Considering the Iraqi resistance movement is killing American soldiers [the defence of which is] one of the criteria for revocation [of US visas]
    I do not know if the poster’s assertion here is actually correct, it sounds rather anti-1st amendment. However, isn’t the statement rather bizarre? “If you find anything positive to say about my enemy, you can’t visit my country.”

    When you contend that Dean with his line ?Europeans cannot criticize the United States for waging war in Iraq if they are unwilling to exhibit the moral fiber to stop genocide by acting collectively and with decisiveness.? is suggesting that the US went to war to stop genocide, I think you misinterprete him or worse: avoid answering the question behind it.
    It isn’t a contention, I understand very well that it is not what Dean meant. However, look at the sentence again, logically, it is the only interpretation of the sentence that can make sense. Anything else would imply that you can only criticize doing A if you can B – where A and B are totally different subjects – silly.

    Finding common ground among nations regarding military action in other countries for humanitarian or for societal reasons (e.g. lets make Iraqi society better by eliminating a tyrant) will hopefully be one of the most important advances of the 21st century. It is extremely important and will have extremely farreaching consequences, the least of which will be to stop calling the military “defence” forces. Dean is doing nobody any favours by claiming that the fact nobody knows where to start this difficult task in some way excuses Bush’s decision to start an unnecessary war.

  8. Pavel, rejection of Israel’s right to exist is not Islamist in origin, it is Arab nationalist. And considering the surprising willingness among my fellow Westerners to divide up Iraq or give Kosovo independence, worse, deny Palestine independence based on another state’s ‘security needs’ while that state aggressively colonises Palestine’s remaining lands and water resources, I am not even sure it would be that special among all the extremisms today.

    That was my critique of the logic of your ‘test’, on principle. However, Ramadan is nowhere near to denying Israel’s right to exist. I Googled some quotes for you:

    “To my regret, anti-Semitic utterances have been heard not only from frustrated and confused young Muslims, but also from certain Muslim intellectuals and imams,” he says, “who in every crisis or political backsliding see the hand of the `Jewish lobby.’ There is nothing in Islam that gives legitimization to Judeophobia, xenophobia and the rejection of any human being because of his religion or the group to which he belongs. Anti-Semitism has no justification in Islam, the message of which demands respect for the Jewish religion and spirit, which are considered a noble expression of the People of the Book.”

    …Despite what is happening today in Israel and Palestine, despite Sharon’s policy, despite the feelings of anger and frustration – those responsible for Muslim political and social organizations must open a dialogue that distinguishes between criticism of Israel’s policy, and anti-Semitic and Judeophobic statements and actions. This is lacking today and this is a great responsibility.” [quoted in Haaretz]

  9. I appreciate the article for its examination of sources that I can’t read. I don’t care for the tone of Mr. Martens, but his argument is a good one, and useful. I have one interpretive objection: Richard Pipes’s work on the Bolshevik revolution and the murderous nature of Lenin prior to Stalin is good historical scholarship in the broad sense — in my opinion. It was his work in Plan B and as a cold warrior that was not “scholarship” but rather paranoid policy direction. The two efforts should be separated.

    Daniel Pipes, however, is in my opinion almost pure ideologue. I think there is an argument that says that people who equivocate (for want of a better word) about the murders of 9/11 should not be allowed into the country. I disagree with that argument, and find it shallow and shameful. His appointment to the US peace institute was inappropriate, and indicates the partisan, irrational cronyism that American culture has descended into with the absense of the big Soviet bogeyman. People are, obviously, free to disagree about this.

    I’m curious, though, about the level of invective in the replies to this article. Reasonable replies question the analysis of Lee Smith, whom I think not very good but not at all the same as Pipes; question certain issues (I find it not a huge yet an interesting point that he said either “actions” or “interventions” or “events”); and the issue of whether Al-Turabi is a bad man or a mostly bad man. These are all legitimate criticisms of the article.

    However, the other stuff — who cares about style? No matter the argument, anyone who goes to the trouble of informing you about their biases before presenting a researched argument — even a poor one — is doing you a favor. Mr. Martens has done me a favor despite the tone of the writing and the weakness of certain points. Thanks. Good stuff.

  10. I don’t think very much of Lee Smith. From what I have read of his work on Slate and TAPPED, he lived in Egypt for a few months and thinks this gives him the necessary tools to write a book on Arab culture. You can read critiques of his work at the “Abu Aardvark” blog. (a prof in Mass., I think).

    To exxaggerate, Smith is generally opposed to engaging or discussing anyhing with any practicing Muslim political figure. You can read him for yourself to see if there is a counter-example — I haven’t seen one.

  11. Thanks so much for the post, Mr Martens. Notwithstanding the possibility (as per Ralph) that Pipes might have done something useful at some point in his career, I don’t mind the tone of your post at all. Pipes promugates smears, and does so because he’s a bigot – might as well call him what he is. He is himself guilty of slyness and disingenuousness – naturally, exactly what he’s accuseing Ramadan of. Deliberate liars like Pipes don’t deserve rhetorical ‘kid gloves’.

    I’ve read Lee Smith in Slate and have never known whether or not he actually has the authority to assert what he does. He often simply states a point of view as if it were fact. Nothing wrong with stating an honest opinion, though.

  12. I would just like to add my small contribution to this heated debate.

    I have stayed in Ramadan hotels on several occasions, and can confirm that they provide examplary service at a very economical price. In the past, I’ve recommended them to several of my friends.

    I just feel that needed to be said.


    Brother Vaughan.

  13. As Eugene Volokh points out on his site, he is not monolingual. He was born in Kiev, and I believe he speaks fluent Russian.

  14. Dear Scott Martens,

    Congratulations on this short article, it’s a very nice piece of (nearly-)scientific work. Checking, analysing and verifying facts is sometimes a long and tedious task that requires knowledge at the limit of the mainstream. You did a very good job at showing the lies behind this article, what may open the mind of those that can accept right and accurate arguments with honesty. I salute your open-mindedness for not taking sides and choosing the right words regarding believers, especially muslims.

    Keep up the good work.

  15. I missed this post the first time around. Thanks for the effort, Scott. I was also taken aback by the tone of some of the comments (even though I, personally, don’t tend to agree with your perspective.) Pipes’ references were misleading and irresponsible, which needed to be pointed out.

    One qualification about Ramadan’s use of the word “interventions”, however. First, in the context of the interview Ramadan’s quote had to do not with his own assessment, but with his discussion of perceptions prevalent in the public at large. But in that context, though I’m sure my French isn’t as good as yours, it sound to my ears that he use the word ironically, precisely because it is not the usual usage. I note that Ramadan’s interview is the only record Google has for the phrase “interventions de New York”, while the phrase “intervention terroriste” is mainly used to describe American actions.

    Q: What are the effects of this “paternalism” [of the West towards the Muslim world]?

    A: The power and domination come from the North. The US, at the international level, and Israel, at the local level, are perceived as dominating countries. And Muslims see themselves as resisting this domination. This is what the current elite in Iraq repeat at will. And, after September 11, the North is resisting an informal power called al-Qaeda. In short, in both camps today, there is a feeling of being in a state of resistance. And to resist in the name of God is more easily considered to be legitimate. What we have here are two simplistic notions [deux simplismes] that are in confrontation.

    Q: To the point of legitimatizing terrorism?

    A: From the French banlieues [the code word for “Arab gettoes”] to Muslim societies, you would not find support, except quite minute, for the interventions of New York, Bali or Madrid. One cannot conflate Iraqi or Palestinian resistance with pro-Bin Laden actions.

    Everyone can decide for themselves whether this is a bit too much cultural relativism for their tastes or just enough.

    See also Abu Aaardvark for an interesting exchange with Lee Smith about his American Prospect article.

  16. Ironically the best indictment of Tariq Ramadan I’ve seen rests precisely on a literate, knowledgable understanding of the use of language, Arabic in this case.


    If you don’t like downloading .doc files or don’t have Microsoft word, you can read the google cache html translation of the paper.

    I’m not sure how long google links are good for so I’ll give you a title and a link:
    Some Notes on Arabic Terminology as a Link Between Tariq Ramadan and Sheikh Dr. Taha Jabir al-Alwani, Founder of the Doctrine of “Muslim Minority Jurisprudence” (Fiqh al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah) By SHAMMAI FISHMAN*

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